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Posted: July 16, 2013 6:05 p.m.

Shirking city laws

"He is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation."

-Adlai E. Stevenson

Covington Councilman Keith Dalton owes an apology to city residents and the business community for shirking city laws that he expects others to follow.

During his years on the council, he has made laws that affect businesses operating in the city, but apparently lives under the old backward adage of "don’t do as I do, do as I say." It appears Dalton either did not understand the law requiring businesses to have licenses or felt he didn’t have to have a business license to operate his janitorial business as it grew from a small operation to a thriving enterprise.

After our story Sunday pointed out the absence of a business license, Dalton went to the city of Covington on Monday and got a valid home occupation license to be allowed to legally run his business out of his home.

On first being asked about a license by a reporter prior to the July council meeting, Dalton said he had one in Social Circle. He apparently had told other city officials the same thing at some point. His statements were at best inaccurate and at worst intentional deceit.

In fact, when he tried to get one in Social Circle after the issue arose, he was told he could not because he didn’t have a valid Social Circle address. You would think a sitting councilman would know such things.

The fact that the councilman would be dishonest about his business operation, to the point of trying to get a license in another town, is more galling than is the lack of a license itself.

Failing to obtain a license could at least be chalked up to ignorance, hard as that might be to believe for a councilman. But it’s hard to make an excuse for lying.

According to city officials, Dalton will not be charged any retroactive fees from past years, nor any late fines.

Color us confused. The reasoning is that the city never had any official record of the business and so cannot penalize a person for past transgressions without official documentation.

So, a business that got a license at one point, and then let it lapse, can be penalized, while a business owner who never bothered in the first place cannot. That’s a disappointing application of the law. We hope the city council examines the fairness of such a policy. Without the potential of penalty for failure to comply, the business license requirement is impotent.

The final issue is one that reared its head earlier this year when the Newton County Board of Commissioners discovered its contracted landscaper did not have a business license and voted to cancel his contract after voting to renew it previously.

Dalton’s company has contracts with the county library system, department of health and the Social Circle school system. Will the same standard be applied?

We can debate the importance of having a business license, but the fact is local law requires one. We hope this is a wake-up call for local governments to make sure every contractor with which they do business has a business license.

Ultimately, a judgment on the seriousness of Dalton’s failure to obtain a business license, his willingness to attempt to obtain one in another city, and his dishonesty in addressing the issue will be made by the voters, who twice have elected him to office.

It is often said we get the government we deserve. Is this what the people of Covington deserve?

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